Following investigation of in-custody death of Arturo Gomez Calel; while on meth attempted to break into occupied vehicles, struggled with and was tased by police
Mayor Thorpe used incident to push his police reforms at special Friday meeting later that week
By Ted Asregadoo, PIO, Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office
Martinez, Calif. – On Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office released a report on the 2021 in-custody death of 33-year-old Arturo Gomez Calel in Antioch clearing police of any wrongdoing. The DA determined as written below, “the use of force by Antioch Police Officers was lawful and permitted”.
The incident occurred just after midnight on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 in which Gomez was on meth, attempting to break into occupied vehicles on a major city street, then struggled and was Tasered by police. Later that day, Mayor Lamar Thorpe held an emergency press conference with then-Police Chief Tammany Brooks and used the incident to push his police reforms at a special Friday meeting that week. (See related article)
The report is part of a Contra Costa County protocol to investigate incidents where police officers or civilians are shot or die during an encounter with law enforcement. The District Attorney’s Office conducts its own independent investigation into law enforcement fatal incidents (LEIFI) and details those findings — along with a legal analysis and a charging decision – in a report that’s released to the public. The release of the LEIFI report on Gomez is the final step in the investigation.
District Attorney Diana Becton notes, “My administration has been committed to public safety, transparency, and increased accountability since I was elected in 2018. The LEIFI investigations are an example of that commitment to be transparent with the public about in-custody deaths like that of Mr. Gomez.”
The February 24th, 2021, incident involving Arturo Gomez began after midnight when Gomez placed a 911 call to authorities claiming his phone had been hacked. A dispatcher noted that Gomez sounded paranoid and appeared to be in an argument with another person – whom authorities later learned was a Lyft driver. While Gomez was traveling in the Lyft vehicle, he came into possession of the driver’s phone after Gomez asked to see the address he was going to. At one point, the Lyft driver said he became fearful Gomez was going to physically harm him and exited the vehicle. Gomez proceeded to climb into the driver’s seat and attempted to drive off. However, his efforts were thwarted by the Lyft driver — who retrieved the ignition key before Gomez could drive away. Gomez then exited the vehicle and fled on foot.
When officers from Antioch Police arrived on the scene at Lone Tree Way at Ridgerock Drive, Gomez was on a cell phone. As an officer approached him, Gomez backed away saying “You’re a fake cop.” Gomez then led the officers on a foot chase where he eventually ran into traffic on Lone Tree Way. To mitigate the safety hazard Gomez was creating, police set up a traffic break to prevent vehicles from traveling through the incident area.
While trying to evade police, Gomez tripped and fell to the ground on James Donlon Boulevard. One officer ordered him to stay on the ground, but Gomez ignored the command. Officers then tried to physically subdue him, but Gomez continued to struggle, and a physical altercation ensued. After multiple Taser deployments on Gomez, the officers were eventually able to handcuff him. At no point did any of the officers involved use the weight of their body on Gomez’s back or neck, nor did they use a carotid restraint on him.
However, shortly after Gomez was detained, he became unresponsive and stopped moving altogether. Officers rolled him onto his left side, noticed his breathing had become labored and then began administering life-saving measures while emergency medical personnel were enroute. Gomez died later at a local hospital.
An autopsy to determine the cause of Gomez’s death was performed by Dr. Arnold Josselson on February 25th. Dr. Josselson found Gomez had 910 nanograms of methamphetamine and 54 nanograms of amphetamine in his blood — substances which, when taken in large doses, can lead to convulsions, circulatory collapse, hallucinations, and cardiac arrest. Dr. Josselson concluded that Gomez died from “asphyxia and cardiac arrest while in a prone position during a struggle with police after being tased while under the influence of methamphetamine.”
During his testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest on April 29, 2022, Dr. Josselson explained to the jurors the three-step process that led to Gomez’s death. The first stage was brought on by the amount of methamphetamine in his system; an amount that gave rise to his aggressive and physically active behavior when resisting police arrest. In the second stage, Gomez’s muscles were completely exhausted and lacked the ability to expand his rib cage allowing him to breathe. The third stage was brought about by low oxygen levels that led to his heart stopping. Following the testimony of Dr. Josselson and other witnesses, the jury reached a unanimous verdict that Arturo Gomez’s death was an accident (i.e., an unforeseen event, misfortune, act, or omission with no evidence of an intent to harm or cause death).
In its legal analysis, the District Attorney’s Office concluded that, given the totality of facts in this incident, the use of force by Antioch Police Officers was lawful and permitted pursuant to California Penal Code sections 835, 835a, 835a(a)(4), and 835a(b). Consequently, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office will take no further action regarding the in-custody death of Arturo Gomez.
The District Attorney’s Office is in the process of notifying the Gomez family about the publication of this report. A copy of the report has also been sent to state Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office and is available on the District Attorney’s website.
Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.